The fine book “Blue Yonder” by Lonnie Wheeler refers to Kentucky as The United States of Basketball. Such is the passion for roundball in the Bluegrass State.
Yet the greatest thing about this rivalry is that between 1959 and 1983, the teams did not play each other once because of Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp. He hated Louisville and was haughty and arrogant about his own school’s border-to-border supremacy. But as Louisville, under Denny Crum, surpassed the Wildcats in the 1980s in becoming a national power, it was inevitable that the rivalry would be renewed. The NCAA Tournament seeding committee fired the first shot, setting it up so that the schools met for the first time in 24 years in 1983. The next fall, an annual contest known as the Dream Game, was staged.
And when Rick Pitino was hired at Louisville, “This rivalry will be driven up a notch,” Dick Vitale said of the coach who had guided Kentucky back to national prominence.
Kentucky leads the all-time series, 25-12.
Louisville won that first “reunion” in 1983, outscoring Kentucky 18-6 in overtime en route to an 80-68 victory that sent the Cards to the Final Four.
December of ’01 marked the return of Pitino to Lexington. An easy 82-62 victory for the Wildcats eased the pain of seeing Pitino on the opposing bench for the rabid UK fans. But the Cardinals would snag some big wins, including a memorable victory that snapped Kentucky’s 27-game regular-season winning streak.
Ed Reinke / AP
Louisville coach Rick Pitino has been on both sides of the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry.
A 2005 meeting was just as good, but with a different result. Kentucky guard Patrick Sparks hit three free throws in the final second to cap a 60-58 victory in a game that Louisville lead 32-16 at halftime.
Since returning to the Bluegrass state as Louisville's coach, Pitino has been dubbed “Traitor Rick” by the good folks in Lexington.
Among the signs at Rupp Arena: “Cardinal Sin;” “Their Coach is Still a Crum;“ and this classic: “Joann, We Never Liked You Either,” referring to Pitino's wife, who did not attend the game.
The fans also chanted, “Let's Go Celtics” late in the game, deriding Pitino's unsuccessful NBA stint in Boston. “A good-natured jest,” Pitino, ever the diplomat, said after the game. “That's what entertainment and college basketball is all about. You have to laugh and have some fun.”
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
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